Headaches and other neurological diseases are getting worse — due to climate change

MINNEAPOLIS – Headaches are getting worse, and a new study says climate change may be to blame.

According to researchers from the American Academy of Neurology, global warming is fueling a rise in neurological diseases ranging from migraines to Alzheimer’s. People with Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS) may also experience worsening symptoms.

Strokes may also become more prevalent as the planet heats up. The team notes that global warming causes air pollution, which previous studies have linked to worsening brain health. Smog from traffic and industry contains tiny toxic particles called particulate matter. They enter the bloodstream after people breathe them into their lungs. eventually, they can travel to the brain.

“Although the international community seeks to reduce global temperature rise to under 2.7 ºF before 2100, irreversible environmental changes have already occurred, and as the planet warms these changes will continue to occur,” says the Cleveland Clinic’s Andrew Dhawan, MD, DPhil, in a media release. “As we witness the effects of a warming planet on human health, it is imperative that neurologists anticipate how neurologic disease may change.”

Pests carrying diseases which attack the brain are also spreading

The study found extreme weather events and temperature fluctuations displayed a connection with stroke incidence and severity, migraines, hospitalization in dementia patients, and worsening of MS. For emerging neuroinfectious diseases like West Nile virus, meningococcal meningitis, and tick-borne encephalitis, climate change expanded the favorable conditions beyond the traditional geographic areas.

These diseases, carried by animals and insects, increase the risk of disease in new populations. Exposure to airborne pollutants, especially nitrates and PM 2.5s spewed from car exhausts, increased the risk of stroke, headaches, dementia, Parkinson’s, and MS.

“Climate change poses many challenges for humanity, some of which are not well-studied,” Dhawan says. “For example, our review did not find any articles related to effects on neurologic health from food and water insecurity, yet these are clearly linked to neurologic health and climate change. More studies are needed on ways to reduce neuroinfectious disease transmission, how air pollution affects the nervous system, and how to improve delivery of neurologic care in the face of climate-related disruptions.”

The findings are based on 364 previously published studies on pollution, climate change, temperature extremes, and neurological diseases between 1990 and 2022. The U.S. team only looked at the effects on adults, not children.

These analyses highlighted the relationships between temperature variability and worsening neurological symptoms, warming climates, and tick or mosquito-borne infections, as well as airborne pollutants and cerebrovascular disease rate and severity. The team notes their results, in the journal Neurology, apply to wealthy and developed countries. Impacts may be even more severe in resource-poor regions of the world.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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